Saturday, 24 June 2017

Memories of McDonald's

How many times have I gone on record saying 1967 was the greatest year the world has ever seen ?  My photograph, left was taken in 1967.  What a handsome, good-looking and sexy young man I was. Note the image is in black and white, few people could afford the film to take colour pictures. Television was in black and white as well, just two stations and they only operated limited hours each day. No such thing as home computers, smart phones, frozen food, microwave ovens. There was so much more we did not have. Among everything we all take for granted today - WE HAD NO McDONALDS !

School dinners in 1967 were never great, some days they were not nice and some days they were utterly disgusting !      The most disgusting of disgusting school dinners were beef burgers. If anyone was stupid enough you could buy these hideous items in sealed tins in the shops. Inside the tins gristle and onion patties floated in a foul smelling gravy. At school they were served with lumpy mashed potatoes and peas which could have been used to deadly effect in an army machine gun.

On Wednesday 13th November 1974 an American company opened a restaurant in Woolwich, South-East London, selling beefburgers and silly thin cut chips.  To obliterate the taste of these ridiculous attempts at a meal the meat was served in a bread roll, plastered with sauce and all kinds of pickled muck.

It would never catch on, we all knew that. The idea had been imported from America, the land of the eccentric. It was doomed to failure. The company called itself McDonald's.  American food - beefburgers - silly thin chips that you couldn't possibly sink your teeth into. No, it would never catch on. The company couldn't even get its name right - McDonald's, sounded Scottish so perhaps these beefburgers were really haggis in disguise.  That was it, it was a diabolical American plot to take revenge on Britain for becoming the world capitol of pop music.

In 1975 I was a newly qualified teacher. One Saturday I helped a friend run a youth club trip to somewhere in London, I can not remember where but I do remember one boy on the mini-'bus pleading for it to be driven to this McDonald's place so he could eat a beefburger. My friend the youth leader flatly refused, if he had agreed there would have been a riot as none of the sensible boys would ever eat a beefburger !

McDonald's in Woolwich did not fail, it is still, there and I have eaten inside where I viewed its
proud notice announcing it was the first McDonald's in the land. McDonalds came to the town where I lived in 1979. I was married then and had been promoted to be a head of year in a large comprehensive school.  None of the teenagers in my charge were interested in McDonald's although one or two did confess to having been there.

Two people who did go there once a week were husband and wife colleagues.  My own wife said to me that if McDonald's was a good enough place for these respected friends and colleagues to eat perhaps we should try it.  Eventually I summonsed up the courage.  I refused to eat a beefburger, McDonald's called them hamburgers in those days even if here was no ham inside the dreaded food.  I ate chicken and ordered that none of the muck was to be put inside the bread roll, just the chicken and nothing else.

What an experience !  Even if the chicken did taste nice enough you had to eat it with your fingers !  OK you could hold the chicken bun using a paper napkin but you had to eat your chips using your fingers.  Oh, McDonald's did not call them chips but French Fries.  For goodness sake what was French about silly American skinny chips served in England ?  You were not given plates to put your food on but had to eat everything out of cardboard boxes and paper bags. But this was not the biggie !  Everyone was expected to clear their table at the end of eating !  I am surprised the management did not send you out to the kitchen to do the washing up !  Ah there would not be any washing up would there ?  The paper bags and cardboard boxes were thrown in the bin !

One of the teachers at the school's wife worked at McDonald's in Central Milton Keynes, she was the staff manager.  She gave a job to one of my year group, Peter, as a management trainee.  I was convinced he could have done better for himself than work for a beefburger, I mean hamburger, outfit.  I went in there one evening and found Peter yelling orders as he bullied the staff to work harder.  Peter rose through the ranks to become a regional manager before taking on a new career.

This branch of McDonald's could not cope with the demand of customers, very quickly it took over the adjacent shop and doubled its size. It was the only McDonald's for miles around and I do know, for a time at least, it held the company record for the most UK burgers sold in a day.

When my children were born the treat was not to go to McDonald's but to a branch of Little Chef where you ate with a knife and fork at a table where the food was served to you and you did not have to clear the plates away after.  Little Chef ?  Remember them ? 

My daughter, Rebekah wanted to have her birthday party at McDonald's.  Peter organised it for her and the entire class from school came along.

Rebekah was born with chronic renal failure and spent most of her childhood in and out of Guys Hospital London.  Medically Guys is a centre of excellence but food wise, food for patients !  Nobody  ate anything served. When McDonald's opened a branch in the hospital grounds what an answer to prayer that was.

I would go down to McDonald's from Rebekah's ward high up in Guys Tower and join the queue of relatives buying food for patients in the hospital.  You would always see doctors sitting at the tables eating, I assume the staff canteen was as terrible as the patient catering.
It was at this time I decided to try my first beefburger,  Setting aside schoolboy prejudice but not brave enough to eat all the muck they plaster over the meat I ordered one.  To my astonishment I liked it. I graduated to a cheeseburger, minus the muck of course. That is still my favourite today - a quarter pounder with cheese as a large meal with a diet Coke.  I always make my wishes very clear - PLAIN quarter pounder please - just the burger, cheese and the bun please.  I resist saying NO MUCK please.

This building with the bit sticking out is Guys Tower where Rebekah's ward was located. In the shadow of the tower McDonald's built the first Ronald McDonald House in Britain. It was opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother and provided twenty bedrooms for families with sick children in the hospital.  We were one of the first families to be supported by Ronald in the first British Ronald McDonald House in England.

At the time I was writing newspaper and magazine articles to make a few extra pounds for the family while Rebekah was in hospital. I decided I would write something about McDonald's and the way it had supported my family, I called the article HOW FAST IS FAST FOOD.  I interviewed a chip shop owner who said McDonald's had done a great service to the take away food industry by raising standards of hygiene in production.  McDonald's head office
was in Finchley, North London.  I spent time there with the then company secretary who was also in charge of Ronald McDonald House.  It was a great visit and I was able to look round the McDonald's Hamburger University.  I never did find out why they insist on putting all that muck inside the burgers.

At the time my local newspaper feature was published there was only one branch of McDonald's in town. A reader from an adjacent town wrote to the editor complaining that Leighton Buzzard did not have its own McDonald's.

McDonald's may be excellent at making burgers, providing they are served without all that muck on them, but it's website is a navigational nightmare !  I tried to find out how many McDonald's branches there are in Milton Keynes today and have no idea, no idea at all.

At the same time as I wrote the local newspaper article I did some writing for Landrover Owner Magazine and an NGO working in a former European communist state.  I was there shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. My interpreter told me that a McDonald's had opened in the country's capital city.  I challenged him and said that was not right. He insisted there was a McDonald's and took me to see it.  It was not McDonald's but a family run cafe.  I explained whereupon he said to me "But they sell McDonald's !"  In the heart of Europe's most totalitarian state McDonalds did not mean the company but the food it sold.

You can not buy a burger in a supermarket that tastes anywhere near as good as a McDonald's burger. Those you buy frozen have the same diabolical taste as the hideous stomach churning tinned burgers we had served to us at school all those years ago.  I would never touch it but my wife enjoys a pot of porridge, she will tell you nobody makes porridge as good as McDonald's.  My breakfast favourite is McDonald's hashbrowns. Why is it the hasbrowns you buy in a supermarket taste of nothing but onion ?  Perhaps all frozen food manufacturers should take a course at McDonald's Hamburger University.

My best friend, Jake - a Patterdale Terrier, loves McDonald's hash browns.  He understands English, you have only to say the world McDonald's and he goes crazy in anticipation of something to eat. If we drive past a branch and he sees the golden arches he becomes most distressed if we do not pull in.

Jake's favourite branch of McDonald's is near our home at Westcroft, Milton Keynes.  Jake has a special friend there, McDonald's employee Gianis. We made this silly film when Jake went one morning to see Gianis at McDonald's.  I tell you if I was a businessman I would nick Gianis from McDonald's, his customer service skills are amazing.  It's worth going to the drive through just to chat with him.

Where is your favourite McDonald's ?  Where in the world have you eaten in a branch of McDonald's ? I  have had my quarter pounder with cheese - minus the muck - in Amsterdam, Holland and Los Angeles, California.  Los Angeles will always be a bit special to me. 

Most schools take trips to Alton Towers or if they are very ambitions to somewhere like France. As head of year I used to organise trips to Disneyland - CALIFORNIA.  I did it five times.  We would fly from Heathrow to Los Angeles where I would collect a hired mini'bus then drive right across Los Angeles to Anaheim, I would rive in the height of the afternoon rush hour. As soon as we had checked into our hotel I would take the group to McDonald's to chill out after our long journey. 1500 South Harbour Boulevard, Anaheim, California.  I can still remember the address !  Eating my burger there - minus the muck - just the burger, cheese and the bun, meant we were in America.

Looks a bit different doesn't it ?  1500 South Harbour Boulevard ?   It's still McDonald's with the golden arches and the red and yellow. Did you know there are two places in England where McDonald's is strictly forbidden to use the golden arches and those bright red and yellow colours ? 

Stratford Upon Avon and Windsor, there a far more sedate identify is in use.
I took Rebekah one one of my trips to Disneyland California, I had to get special permission from her doctors but she had a great time and, yes she ate in that branch of McDonald's.

When we returned home from California the company secretary of McDonald's UK wanted Rebekah to be Europe's child ambassador to some global McDonald's event being held at its world headquarters in Chicago.  That was lovely but we had only just got back from the US. It happened that a child from France was chosen to represent Europe, McDonald's England was not please at all but it was good for the little girl from France.

Americans like their apple pie don't they ?  Have you heard the expression, As American as Apple Pie ?    If you have not eaten a McDonald's apple pie you have not lived ! They do not put any burger style muck on their apple pies - just piping hot apple in an amazing pastry.  There is only one pie better than a McDonald's apple pie and that is a McDonald's Festive Pie at Christmas.  I do not understand for the life of me why some years these are not available. Christmas is not Christmas without a McDonald's Festive Pie.  Hey you bosses in Finchley, London, and Chicago you had better make sure festive pies are on the menu this coming December !

A word to my former students and now friends on Facebook.  Do you remember the week-end trips to Shropshire ?  I did not initiate this but do you remember the Big Mac eating competitions you used to hold in McDonald's Shrewsbury ?  The years may have faded my memory but I think John Chapman held the record at four.  Four Big Macs, eaten one after another and all served with the muck on them !

It is fifty years since I ate my last school dinner. It is thirty-eight years since I made my very first visit to McDonald's.  It is three days since I last ate at McDonalds.  THREE DAYS, I will be getting withdrawal symptoms !

Ronald McDonald has always been a special friend of my family's, we can never thank him enough for Ronald McDonald House when Rebekah was a little girl.Ronald has been an important friend of my family for thirty years, ever since the time Rebekah was in Guys Hospital.

Rebekah died on Friday 19th May 2017, aged 34 years. It is hard to believe I am now living in a world without my darling daughter.  On a recent birthday she said to her friends not to send her cards but to go to McDonald's and pop a few coins in Ronald's box.

In her will she asked that there be no flowers at the funeral but for people to make donations instead to Ronald McDonald. Her friends set up a project OUR REBEKAH and have so far raised eight hundred and twelve pounds. I have spoken with Ronald and shared some ideas where we can make thirty four thousand pounds, one thousand for every year of Rebekah's life, then to do this every year until the end of my own life. If I can live to support Ronald for another thirty years that comes to one million pounds.

This picture shows two of Beck's friends who initiated the Our Rebekah project. On Tuesday I am meeting with McDonald Franchise Owner, Ken and his Marketing Manager Laura to talk about ideas Rebekah's friends and I have to help Ronald.  How appropriate that we are meeting in the branch of McDonald's where I ate my first McDonald's meal - a chicken in a bun with no muck on it.

As Project Rebekah gets under way I will be sharing so many things with you here on this diary page.  Rebakah may have passed away but she will be with us all as we make her project a success.

There will be many different people I need to meet with as different activities are introduced, planned and brought on line.  ALL of these meetings I intend holding in branches of McDonald's up and down the country. 

Did you read yesterday's diary entry ? The letter to The Prime Minister's Principal Private Secretary has been sent by recorded delivery.  My local member of parliament has had his arm twisted to speak to the Prime Minister.  I am asking for just a fifteen minute meeting where I can praise the work of our NHS and thank her for all it did for Rebekah.  That is a personal meeting and time to show my family's gratitude, it is not part of the Our Rebekah Project and does not involve Ronald.  However, at the meeting it is my intention to invite Theresa and Philip May to come to McDonald's and have a burger with me.  I will assure them they do not have to have any muck on the burger and can eat it nice and plain just as I do !

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